Much ado about Constitutional Amendment

With the hullabaloo generated by the constitutional review currently going on in the country, it is important for Nigerians to learn useful lessons. From the voting pattern in the National Assembly; some Nigerians including prominent ones that are supposed to understand democratic processes jumped in the arena to attack legislators who voted down certain items like devolution of powers to states. Devolution which in other words may stand in for some level of “restructuring” did not scale through in both houses of the National Assembly. This singular action prompted people to rile the legislature in a way to suggest they made a mistake or don’t want the progress of the country.

Speaking on the matter, President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki stated that the fact that it did not pull through means that there were some Nigerians that were not sure of what it is, and a lot of people equated devolution of power with restructuring. “This was why I said when I was in Ilorin that we should all blame ourselves because I think the commentaries by sections, groups and individuals have built a lot of mistrust. If the constitutional review had come like eight months ago, the devolution clause would have passed”.

Continuing, the former governor said, “I think that the sentiments, fake news and one part of the country saying they want to go and another saying they want to stay, contributed to the rejection. All of these issues created this mistrust, as people are not sure of what it is all about and are having insinuations that some people want to play a fast one on them. So, those who were skeptical said they were not ready to support this and as I keep saying, we are a country of multiple religions, multiple ethnicity, which must be respected.’’

Saraki said that as a diverse nation with different ways of life, it was important to appreciate the concern of everyone on the state of the nation. According to him, “you can’t bully people to go one way because that is the way you want it. The Constitution has said two-thirds; if you say two-thirds, that means you must have the buy-in of more than majority of the people.’’

Apart from the total lack of regard for the democratic rights of other people, some Nigerians have also shown lack of depth in matters of constitutional review and the processes involved. Even lawyers went on television to argue that with what took place at the National Assembly the 1999 constitution stands amended. No! The process also includes getting at least 24 state assemblies to vote either yes or no to the amendment. This lack of depth is worrisome. More importantly like the chairman of the National Assembly has eloquently revealed, Nigerians need to appreciate that in a democracy there will be divergent opinions and once a matter is put to vote the only thing left to be done by those who’s interest came out short is to begin another process of engagement.

The people who want changes in a democracy carry the burden of engagement, lobbying and patience. You cannot force through your opinion simply because you feel strongly about your argument. In nation building, consensus is very critical. You do not think that your opinion is that of God and must be accepted by all. You must do the legwork; you must give something to gain something. That is how it is done all over the world and Nigeria cannot be different.

In a multi-party democracy you win some and lose some. Having lost on some items in the amendment process, the right thing to do is to begin to lobby, not abuse. It is to engage not to dismiss others because you will need their vote tomorrow. Since the senate president has assured that it is not yet end-of-the-road for the clause in the amendment.

To make progress, Dr. Saraki called for adequate education, awareness creation and engagement of major stakeholders on the matter. According to him, with adequate education, those with reservations will better understand the place of devolution of powers in the unity and development of the nation. He explained that allowing states to handle functions like stamp duties, railway construction and investment, for instance, would bring to bear the benefits of devolution.

He pointed out that if Nigerians were properly enlightened to appreciate the benefits of devolution rather than the sentiments being built around the matter, the country would be better for it. The president of the senate also explained that the lawmakers that voted against the clause and similar ones, might have taken the side of caution, not to attract the wrath of their constituents.

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